Native American Legends
Old Man Doctors
A Blackfoot Legend
A pis'kun had been built, and many buffalo had been run in and
killed. The camp was full of meat. Great sheets of it hung in the
lodges and on the racks outside; and now the women, having cut up
all the meat, were working on the hides, preparing some for robes,
and scraping the hair from others, to make leather.
About this time, Old Man came along. He had come from far and was
very tired, so he entered the first lodge he came to and sat down.
Now this lodge belonged to three old women. Their husbands had died
or been killed in war, and they had no relations to help them, so
they were very poor. After Old Man had rested a little, they set
a dish of food before him. It was dried bull meat, very tough, and
some pieces of belly fat.
"Hai'-yah ho!" cried Old Man, after he had tasted a piece.
"You treat me badly. A whole pis'kun of fat buffalo just killed;
the camp red with meat, and here these old women give me tough bull
meat and belly fat to eat. Hurry now, roast me some ribs and a piece
of back fat."
"Alas!" exclaimed one old woman. "We have no good
food. All our helpers are dead, and we take what others leave. Bulls
and poor cows are all the people leave us."
"Ah!" said Old Man, "How poor, you are very poor.
Take courage now. I will help you. Tomorrow they will run another
band into the pis'kun. I will be there. I will kill the fattest
cow, and you can have it all."
Then the old women were glad. They talked to one another, saying,
"Very good heart, Old Man. He helps the poor. Now we will live.
We will have marrow guts and liver. We will have paunch and fat
Old Man said nothing more. He ate the tough meat and belly fat,
and rolled up in his robe and went to sleep.
Morning came. The people climbed the bluffs and went out on to
the prairie, where they hid behind the piles of rock and bushes,
which reached far out from the cliff in lines which were always
further and further apart. After a while, he who leads the buffalo
was seen coming, bringing a large band after him. Soon they were
inside the lines. The people began to rise up behind them, shouting
and waving their robes. Now they reached the edge of the bluff.
The leaders tried to stop and turn, but those behind kept pushing
on, and nearly the whole band dashed down over the rocks, only a
few of the last ones turning aside and escaping.
The lodges were now deserted. All the people were gone to the pis'kun
to kill the buffalo and butcher them. Where was Old Man? Did he
take his bow and arrows and go to the pis'kun to kill a fat cow
for the poor old women? No. He was sneaking around, lifting the
door-ways of the lodges and looking in. Bad person, Old Man. In
the chiefs lodge he saw a little child, a girl, asleep. Outside
was a buffalo's gall, and taking a long stick he dipped the end
of it in the gall; and then, reaching carefully into the lodge,
he drew it across the lips of the child asleep. Then he threw the
stick away, and went in and sat down. Soon the girl awoke and began
to cry. The gall was very bitter and burned her lips.
"Pity me, Old Man," she said. "Take this fearful
thing from my lips."
"I do not doctor unless I am paid," he replied. Then
said the girl: "See all my father's Weapons hanging there.
His shield, war head-dress, scalps, and knife. Cure me now, and
I will give you some of them."
"I have more of such things than I want," he replied.
(What a liar! he had none at all.)
Again said the girl, "Pity me, help me now, and I will give
you my father's white buffalo robe."
"I have plenty of white robes," replied Old Man. (Again
he lied, for he never had one.)
"Old Man," again said the girl, "in this lodge lives
a widow woman, my father's relation. Remove this fearful thing from
my lips, and I will have my father give her to you."
"Now you speak well," replied Old Man. "I am a little
glad. I have many wives" (he had none), "but I would just
as soon have another one."
So he went close to the child and pretended to doctor her, but
instead of that, he killed her and ran out. He went to the old women's
lodge, and wrapped a strip of cow skin about his head, and commenced
to groan, as if he was very sick.
Now the people began to come from the pis'kun, carrying great loads
of meat. This dead girl's mother came, and when she saw her child
lying dead, and blood on the ground, she ran back crying out: "My
daughter has been killed! My daughter has been killed!" Then
all the people began to shout out and run around, and the warriors
and young men looked in the lodges, and up and down the creek in
the brush, but they could find no one who might have killed the
Then said the father of the dead girl: "Now, today, we will
find out who killed this child. Every man in this camp every young
man, every old man must come and jump across the creek; and if any
one does not jump across, if he falls in the water, that man is
the one who did the killing." All heard this, and they began
to gather at the creek, one behind another; and the women and children
went to look on, for they wanted to see the person who had killed
the little child. Now they were ready. They were about to jump,
when some one cried out, "Old Man is not here."
"True," said the chief, looking around, "Old Man
is not here." And he sent two young men to bring him.
"Old Man!" they cried out, when they came to the lodge,
"a child has been killed. We have all got to jump to find out
who did it. The chief has sent for you. You will have to jump, too."
"Ki'-yo!" exclaimed the old women. "Old Man is very
sick. Go off, and let him alone. He is so sick he could not kill
meat for us today."
"It can't be helped," the young men replied. "The
chief says every one must jump."
So Old Man went out toward the creek very slowly, and very much
scared. He did not know what to do. As he was going along he saw
a ni'-po-muk-i and he said: "Oh my little brother, pity me.
Give me some of your power to jump the creek, and here is my necklace.
See how pretty it is. I will give it to you."
So they traded; Old Man took some of the bird's power, and the
bird took Old Man's necklace and put it on.
Now they jump. Wo'-ka-hi! they jump way across and far on to the
ground. Now they jump; another, another, another! Now it comes Old
Man's turn. He runs, he jumps, he goes high, and strikes the ground
far beyond any other person's jump. Now comes the ni'-po-muk-i.
"Wo'-ka-hi!" the men shout. "Ki'-yo!" cry the
women, "the bird has fallen in the creek." The warriors
are running to kill him. "Wait! Hold on!" cries the bird.
"Let me speak a few words. Every one knows I am a good jumper.
I can jump further than any one; but Old Man asked me for some of
my power, and I gave it to him, and he gave me this necklace. It
is very heavy and pulled me down. That is why I fell into the creek."
Then the people began to shout and talk again, some saying to kill
the bird, and some not, when Old Man shouted out: "Wait, listen
to me. What's the use of quarrelling or killing anybody? Let us
go back, and I will doctor the child alive."
Good words. The people were glad. So they went back, and got ready
for the doctoring. First, Old Man ordered a large fire built in
the lodge where the dead girl was lying. Two old men were placed
at the back of the lodge, facing each other. They had spears, which
they held above their heads and were to thrust back and forth at
each other in time to the singing. Near the door-way were placed
two old women, facing each other. Each one held a puk'-sah-tchis,
a maul, with which she was to beat time to the singing. The other
seats in the lodge were taken by people who were to sing. Now Old
Man hung a big roll of belly fat close over the fire, so that the
hot grease began to drip, and everything was ready, and the singing
began. This was Old Man's song:
Ahk-sa'-ke-wah, Ahk-sa'-ke-wah, Ahk-sa'-ke-wah, etc. I
don't care, I don't care, I don't care.
And so they sung for a long time, the old men jabbing their spears
at each other, and the old women pretending to hit each other with
After a while they rested, and Old Man said: "Now I want every
one to shut their eyes. No one can look. I am going to begin the
real doctoring." So the people shut their eyes, and the singing
began again. Then Old Man took the dripping hot fat from the fire,
gave it a mighty swing around the circle in front of the people's
faces, jumped out the door-way, and ran off. Every one was burned.
The two old men wounded each other with their spears. The old women
knocked each other on the head with their mauls. The people cried
and groaned, wiped their burned faces, and rushed out the door;
but Old Man was gone. They saw him no more.
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